Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Drunken Forest, by Gerald Durrell


Article by Michelle Lewis

And, indeed, the whole landscape did look as though nature had organized an enormous bottle party, inviting a weird mixture of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical plants to it.

The Drunken Forest. This title holds much promise and Gerald Durrell does not disappoint. From the very beginning, I was drawn into the true story of Durrell’s misadventures collecting animals in Argentina and Paraguay. Don’t worry, animal lovers:  Durrell was a collector for British zoos. The characters, both human and other, are lively and colorful, and Durrell writes with that wonderful British dry wit, albeit with a bit of an imperialistic slant that is not entirely unexpected for a 1950’s British naturalist.

The story begins as Durrell and his wife enter Buenos Aires to start a six month collecting trip. The plan is to collect animals in areas around Buenos Aires and eventually journey to the southernmost tip of South America to collect geese and ducks. As with all well-intentioned plans, especially those of field biologists, they must be changed almost immediately. As a former field biologist, I can attest to the fact that this field is ruled by Murphy’s law. I can’t think of one project that has actually gone according to plan A. Usually, it’s plans E or F (sometimes even Y or Z) that eventually produce acceptable results. I don’t want to give away too much, but I was definitely drawn into the saga of Durrell’s attempts to first collect animals and then find ways to house them and get them safely back to England.

Throughout his travels, Durrell meets a host of interesting animals (human and non-human) including Cai, the intrepid douracouli monkey; Pooh, the baby crab-eating-raccoon who could best even Houdini at escaping from the most complicated of cages; Bebita, the well-connected woman in Buenos Aires who gets Durrell and his companions out of many tight situations; and Paula, the Paraguayan housekeeper/local madam. I must admit here that I had to take off my biologist hat in order to fully enjoy Durrell’s colorful descriptions of the non-humans’ antics. As a biologist, I have been taught that one must never anthropomorphize a study subject. Durrell clearly did not have my Behavioral Ecology professor, who would have failed him for his elegant prose which clearly ascribes human characteristics to Cai, Pooh and all the others. With the biologist hat placed firmly in the back of my closet, I was able to enjoy these tales and laugh along with Durrell and his wife at the antics of their collection.

The highest praise I can give this book is to say that it has awakened the intrepid explorer within me. I want to discover the wonders of the pampa in Paraguay. I long to run after any number of exotic creatures that I am sure are to be found in every corner of South America. I dare you to read this book and not be struck with the desire to hop on the next plane and venture out into the wilderness of South America. Poor Kirsty (who is currently on sabbatical from VL) may soon end up with several adventurers standing on her doorstep with binoculars and field guides in hand.

Penguin Books, 208 pp., ISBN: 978-0140013146

Kirsty is on sabbatical from VL until the end of March due to pressing work concerns.  Luckily, a number of tremendously interesting guest writers have volunteered to occupy her Russian series slot in the meantime.  Kirsty hopes you’ll let her back in come April.

5 comments on “The Drunken Forest, by Gerald Durrell

  1. Lisa
    February 10, 2009

    Love the title. My inner intrepid explorer (sounds like Innerspace or something) could certainly do with a nudge. Thanks so much for the review.

  2. rosyb
    February 10, 2009

    I read this years and years ago along with a loads of other Durrell books. He is always entertaining and writes so well despite having written so many. Didn’t he dictate them – rather Barbara Cartland style?

  3. Jackie
    February 10, 2009

    Like Rosy, I’ve read all of Durrell’s books years ago, but I had forgotten the plot of this one. This review makes me want to read it again, because as you say, “his wonderful British dry wit” is so enjoyable, as are the tales of animals he meets.
    That frog on the cover is kinda cute, too.

  4. Rob
    February 11, 2009

    Thanks for this reminder about Gerald Durrell. I read him a lot as a boy—since then, I’ve discovered and enjoyed Lawrence Durrell, but have rather neglected the younger brother. It’s high time I revisited his books.

  5. sahir
    May 31, 2010

    i am reading the book now–may-june’10. i am enjoying it. liked the review too. 🙂 i already want to visit paraguay & argentina(my parents went to argentina on their honeymoon 🙂 ) have fun. –sahir…

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